Reviews NationalOxford Published 16 September 2021

Review: Can I Live? at Oxford Playhouse (online)

8-13th September, then touring

‘A rallying cry’: Louise Jones reviews Fehinti Balogun and Complicité’s filmed show about the former’s journey into climate activism.

Louise Jones
Fehinti Balogun in Can I Live? Design, Rajha Shakiry; lighting design, Azusa Ono. Photo: David Hewitt.

Fehinti Balogun in Can I Live? Design, Rajha Shakiry; lighting design, Azusa Ono. Photo: David Hewitt.

Fehinti Balogun is trapped in his mum’s house over the pandemic, and confined to the Zoom screen in his performance piece. He’s overshadowed by a cooler brother, forced to roll up his bed at the beginning of every day so as not to disrupt a communal space, locked down in every sense of the word. This, however, is not a show concerned with Covid (any more than the show’s careful status as a digital tour, that is). It’s a show about climate change.

There’s a delightful bait and switch quality to this reveal, almost a sigh of relief as we don’t have to contemplate heavy topics such as mass death figure increases and desperate situations — ah. Can I Live? hides its purpose behind a far younger crisis in the first instance, but the Covid situation is a mere run-up before we’re plunged into the greyer areas of climate crisis.

To call Can I Live? a lecture would rob this piece of its vitality (sorry to lecturers). There’s no 9am sleepiness to Balogun’s performance, and no prior recommended reading. Rather, this is a rallying cry that isn’t afraid to admit that fighting for justice (environmental and social) has the capacity to feel a bit shit, actually — whilst also making the case for banding together and doing it anyway.

Balogun is pulling everything out of his box of tricks to impress a hypothetically disinterested viewer, offering an audience insert in the likes of his hometown mate Kwami (Khalil Madovi), or his mum (Bunmi Adedeji). An arsenal of spoken word, rap, dance and animation (the latter provided by Ash J Woodward) is chucked at the disillusioned, though I have to question how many disillusioned people are watching. Given 1) the demographic of most theatre-goers, and 2) the demographic of those same theatre-goers who would elect to watch environmental theatre (and look, I’m generalising here but the stereotype also fits pretty well on me, so), Balogun is pretty much preaching to the converted.

That said… man, what a sermon. There are so many points of engagement and the angles with which Balogun and his team choose to illustrate them hit straight to the point and lodge themselves in the head (I simultaneously found “The More the Emissions, The Hotter It Gets” a tad repetitive and the best earworm I’ve encountered all week). A particular point of comparison between the planet and the human body makes that 1.5° difference suddenly incredibly tangible. Balogun manages to humanise the globe, a feat which extends to the people on that globe regardless of continent. The fact of the matter, bluntly put, is that whilst Balogun says “these youths they do feel like you”, he acknowledges that predominantly white mainstream movements like Extinction Rebellion wouldn’t centre the experience and wider climate impact upon the families of a British Nigerian guy like him.

Balogun’s illustration of intersectional environmentalism is where the show feels at its freshest. He links a fun, hoppy family tree roundup rap with a warning of up to six years’ drought in North and West Africa, pinching the joy out of the studio slickly and allowing this message to really hit home. He transitions between friendly Fehinti and forgotten environmentalist Ken Suro-Wiwa, lit in blue and red police lights. He’s interrupted in his own show by a Facetiming grandma (Ellen Thomas, whose performance brims with warmth and realism) who wants to know when he’s getting married already. These moments of identity and representation interweave with statistics and further humanise the need for action.

There is a cynical, sceptical instinct to question why a show about climate crisis needs so many studio lights, but this myth of personal responsibility and guilt is debunked thoroughly throughout the show. Balogun touches on a statistic that 3.5% of the population is all that’s needed for a successful political movement, and there are constant reveals in the show to the village it takes to make a show like Can I Live?, not to mention the army of activists inspiring Balogun. There’s a risk of tonal whiplash in this piece but really if you sit down to think about global warming, do you not go through anger and hope and despair just as quickly? This messiness is again, the human core of it all. It’s not on the individual to fix such a monumental problem but, Balogun argues, if we all feel that frustration of wanting to pay the bills without the Earth going to hell, surely we can channel that energy into something bigger.

Can I Live? tours digitally until 28th November. More info here.

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Louise Jones is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Can I Live? at Oxford Playhouse (online) Show Info


Directed by Daniel Bailey, Simon McBurney

Written by Fehinti Balogun

Cast includes Fehinti Balogun, Bunmi Adedeji, Khalil Madovi, Kwami Odoom, Ellen Thomas, Samia Alexandra, Nick Anim, Sara Callaway, Helen Brewer, Joshua Virasami

Original Music Fehinti Balogun, Khalil Madovi, Chloe Rianna, Josh Sneesby

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